Women’s Division I College Hockey: Wisconsin advances to seventh straight WCHA Tournament Championship game with 5-3 win over Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS — The Wisconsin Badgers women’s hockey team advanced to their seventh straight WCHA Final Faceoff championship game thanks to a 5-3 win over Minnesota on Saturday afternoon.

The Badgers will face the winner of the second semifinal between Ohio State and Minnesota Duluth. The championship game is Sunday at 2 pm.

Wisconsin got on the board first midway through the first period on a goal from Sophie Shirley, her tenth of the season. Minnesota’s Josey Dunne lost an edge and turned over a puck in the neutral zone on a change. Britta Curl was racing on for the Badgers and hit Shirley, who got position on her defender and had an easy tap in from right in front of the net to give Wisconsin the 1-0 lead.

Wisconsin Makenna Webster 2021 Final Faceoff
Makenna Webster and Caitlin Schneider celebrate a goal during Wisconsin’s 5-3 win over Minnesota in the WCHA Final Faceoff semifinal.

Makenna Webster doubled the Wisconsin lead midway through the second on a shot from the left circle that beat Gopher goalie Makayla Pahl. However, Abbey Murphy responded for Minnesota less than 90 seconds later to bring the deficit back to one as she placed a perfect wrister over Badger goalie Kennedy Blair’s shoulder.

Despite – or maybe in spite – of the final score, Minnesota coach Brad Frost was happy with how his team played, particularly on defense. The Gophers used a strong forecheck to pressure the Badgers and were very good at disrupting passes.

“(We had) a lot of great sticks, some great tracking by our forwards coming back, trying to deny their rushes. All the things we want to do with our speed we were able to do tonight. It’s hard when you give up 23 shots and five go in the net,” said Frost. “I thought the last couple of games in particular, against Wisconsin, we played well enough to win, we just didn’t. It is not an excuse and it does not make us feel better knowing that we played well, but didn’t win. We’re obviously here to win hockey games and we didn’t do that tonight.”

Wisconsin, currently ranked second in the country, is as much of a lock as one could imagine for an NCAA bid regardless of how they fare in Sunday’s title game, but Minnesota will need to wait until Sunday evening’s selection show to find out if their season will continue.

The Gophers, who were assessed five penalties to Wisconsin’s one, spent much of the second period on the penalty kill, including a 5-on-3 for the Badgers. Minnesota was stellar during the first two power plays, but Wisconsin was able to break through for the third goal just before the second intermission.

After struggling on two power plays the Badgers made the Gophers pay when Webster scored her second of the game. Natalie Buchbinder started to bring the puck out of her defensive zone and hit Webster at their own blue line. The rest was all Webster as she carried it up the far side and into the zone and flicked it far post from the top of the circle.

“We were a little frantic at first,” said Webster. “But we knew we were capable of scoring on the power play. We took a deep breath and knew we had more time than we thought. By the third one we knew exactly what they were going to do and what we had to do. We learned from the first two and did what we had to on the third.”

The Gophers closed the gap early in the third thanks to a goal from Amy Potomak. Emily Brown took a shot from distance. Dunne was screening in front of Blair and tried to poke the puck in. Blair made the stop, but the puck was still loose and Potomak put it away to make it 3-2.

Lacey Eden scored her seventh goal in 11 games with the Badgers five minutes into the third on a mistake from Lauren Bench, who took over goaltending duties for Minnesota to start the third. She played the puck out from behind her net, where Eden easily intercepted it and scored on the wide-open, empty net to make it 4-2 Badgers.

But Minnesota was not done. Grace Zumwinkle scored her league-leading 18th goal after carrying the puck up the near boards and crashing the net to narrow the gap to 4-3 with 5:31 left in the game.

Britta Curl secured the win for the Badgers with an unassisted goal with 15 seconds to go in the game to make it 5-3 Wisconsin.

Wisconsin has won four of the past six Frozen Faceoff championships and will look to regain the crown on Sunday.

This was the 111th meeting between these two overall and the fifth meeting between the border rivals this season. Minnesota leads the all-time series 53-45-13, but Wisconsin has had the advantage over the past five years, leading the Gophers 16-5-4 over their past 23 meetings.